As designers and researchers on the Ongoingness team, we have committed to undertaking volunteering roles. Aside of the personal desire to make a difference and contribute, this is also meaningful in the context of the project. We need to remove ourselves from our normal workplace where we have expertise and a sense of familiarity, and place ourselves in new situations in order to get a different insight from what we are used to or what we might believe. When working with participants we also need glimpses into their daily lives, the challenges faced and the highs and lows that they may want to discuss with us during the project, particularly if we have no personal experience that we can draw from. This may be in various settings- care homes, hospices, charity support lines. And not least because it is a way of offering help and support to those who are at a difficult point in their lives, at a more simplistic and naïve level than we offer as academics.
For a few months now I have been volunteering at a local Marie Curie Hospice. I have found it such a humble and yet vital experience to have an appreciation of the inpatient ward through a different lens. I already know the hospice well. As a practising and academic interior designer, I’d previously been on a walk-about with an architect who had been involved with the design of the original hospice and continues to be involved with upgrades and modifications responding to the changing environment of hospice care. I know the architecture and interior layout and the reasons behind the decisions made. As a former doctor, I can understand the daily activities of the medical team and the needs and desires of the patients. However, when undertaking the more basic task of serving tea and coffee on the morning round, you take on a deeper understanding and see things from a different perspective. It allows you to observe silently yet respectfully: the staff, the patients, the visitors, the room layouts, the choice of furniture, the impact of medical equipment, the lighting, the views internally and externally. Nobody really bothers you. You can move around without urgency or deadline. And you begin to realise perhaps unexpected things:
“John likes a weak tea with a splash of milk and one sugar”… The domestics know exactly what everyone drinks.
I have previously collaborated with JDDK Architects on a research initiative which is ongoing, examining hospice design and whether the initial design process and the resultant building continues to respond to current-day requirements and promotes patient well-being.
Ian Clarke, one of the former directors, questioned how we can design for the intangible qualities of hospice care, such as compassion, empowerment, trust and empathy. In order to answer questions like this we have to be able to appreciate how end-of-life care is given and received from all aspects and in this volunteering role, I am starting to get a sense of how and where this might happen.
Written by Julie
Clarke, I. (2009). Design and Dignity. Retrieved from: http://hospicefoundation.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Ian-Clarke-Design-Dignity-Essay.-October-2009.pdf